Three sideshow performers leave their lives of captivity and become "The Unholy Three." Echo the ventriloquist assumes the role of a kindly old grandmother who runs a bird shop. Tweedledee, the "twenty inch man," becomes her grandbaby, and Hercules is their assistant. Soon an incredible crime wave is launched from their little store.Written by
David Ezell <email@example.com>
Turner Classic Movies showed an 86-minute version with a music and sound effects that was recorded in the 1970s by MGM from a stock music library for syndication. The tints for this edition are incorrect. See more »
Vowing revenge on the world of normal' people, a sideshow ventriloquist, strong man & dwarf band together as THE UNHOLY THREE.
Following Lon Chaney's great film successes at Universal Studios, Irving Thalberg managed to entice the actor to come to MGM. Anxious to repeat the box office bonanzas of Chaney's recent past, Thalberg signed a one-picture deal with Chaney's favorite director, Tod Browning. The resulting film, THE UNHOLY THREE, was such a hit that Thalberg quickly signed Browning for a long-term contract.
Based on a story by Tod Robbins (who would also pen the inspiration for FREAKS), Browning would give the film an appropriately menacing atmosphere, with flashes of comedic wit at just the right intervals. A crime caper rather than a horror film, the chills are saved for right near the end with the rampages of a ferocious ape (actually a chimpanzee, photographed out of proportion) which no one seems surprised to find in a bird store.
While ventriloquism may seem an odd pastime to depict in a silent movie, Chaney made it all seem so sensible. A consummate artist who only now is starting to receive the proper accolades, Chaney did not need to contort limb or face to portray a little old lady. All he needed was a wig & a dress. So well was he received in this role that it was chosen to be remade five years later as Chaney's talking debut.
Muscular Victor McLaglen (a British Army champion athlete) and tiny Harry Earles (one of the few adult actors who could disguise himself as a baby) give very solid support as Chaney's wicked cronies; much of the favorable outcome of the film is due to them.
Pensive Mae Busch scores as the waifish pickpocket allied with Chaney; this very talented actress would get to shine a few years later in a series of appearances with Laurel & Hardy. In his one scene as a stern judge, Edward Connelly lends his saturnine presence to the proceedings.
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